Islamic State remains the world's deadliest terror group, despite the  October 7th attack by Hamas in Israel.

Islamic State and Hamas lead a group of four dominant terrorist groups that account for an increasing number of deaths, according to the annual Global Terrorism Index 2024 (GTI), produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP).

The four terrorist groups responsible for the most deaths in 2023 were Islamic State (IS), Hamas, Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) and Al-Shabaab. These four groups were responsible for a combined 4,443 terrorism deaths, or over 75 per cent of deaths that were attributed to a specific group.  

In 2014 these four groups were responsible for less than 25 per cent of terrorism deaths that were attributed to a group, highlighting the large global shifts in terrorism over the past decade. 

Determining which terrorist groups are the most active and responsible for the most deaths can be difficult, as many groups have regional affiliates and other groups work in partnership or partially under the same command. Terror groups often do not take responsibility for attacks, making attribution challenging, particularly in areas with high levels of active conflict.  

Of the 3,350 terrorist attacks recorded in 2023, 54 per cent were attributed to a group. This compares to 48 per cent in 2022 and 45 per cent in 2021.  

The countries with the highest number of attacks not attributed to a group were Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Pakistan.  

Attacks that cause large numbers of casualties in conflict environments, as well as attacks causing very few deaths, tend to remain anonymous. At one end of the spectrum, terrorist groups have little incentive to claim minor acts of violence that could be seen as failures. At the other, terror groups that inflict the most carnage can fear a backlash from the government and the local population, hampering their recruitment efforts and causing increased counter insurgency efforts against them. 

The GTI 2024 includes chapters and provinces of terrorist groups that are specifically affiliated under the same organisational name. For example, Islamic State (IS) refers to Islamic State, also known as Daesh, as well as their affiliated chapters, such as the Khorasan Chapter and Islamic State West Africa.

The four deadliest terror groups in 2024:  

Islamic State (IS)

IS was the deadliest terror group of 2023 and was responsible for 1,636 deaths from terrorism. 

The deadliest attack attributed to IS in 2023 was an ambush on four military columns in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso in February 2023. Gunmen killed at least 71 soldiers with security forces claiming they killed 160 assailants in counter-offensive operations.7 It is also the fifth deadliest attack attributed to any terror group in 2023.  

In 2023, IS attacks occurred in six of nine GTI regions: AsiaPacific, Europe, MENA, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and Eurasia and South Asia. The country most affected by IS terrorist attacks was Syria, recording 224 attacks in 2023, an increase from 152 attacks in 2022. Syria also recorded the most deaths from IS attacks, with a quarter of all deaths caused by IS occurring in Syria. 

Elsewhere, IS maintained its level of terrorist activity in Nigeria with approximately the same number of attacks, however these attacks resulted in more terrorism deaths which increased by 27 per cent to 276 from 218 in 2022.  

IS is a Sunni extremist group which formed as an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq and Syria in 1999. Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, IS participated in the Iraqi insurgency. In 2014, the group declared itself a worldwide caliphate.  

IS primarily adheres to a global jihadist ideology, following an anti-Western interpretation of Islam and promotes violence against those who do not align with their ideology, including other forms of Islam. The original aim of IS was to establish a Salafist-oriented Islamic state spanning Iraq, Syria and other areas of the Levant, then expanded into other parts of the world through affiliate groups to promote their ideology, including Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISK) in Afghanistan and Pakistan and later the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), which operates in the Sahel region.  

IS and its affiliates exploited tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria, using Sunni disenfranchisement to capture and consolidate its control over areas of Iraq and Syria. IS adopted similar tactics in the Sahel, taking advantage of political instability and local grievances as a means of recruiting followers.  

However, the group has increased its focus on insurgency outside of the Levant through affiliates, particularly the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa. This is especially evident in recent years, with IS ascendant in areas of Mali and Niger driven by the security vacuum created by the withdrawal of UN and French military forces. 

Tactics favoured by Islamic State 

The most common target for IS attacks continues to be the military, representing half of all IS attacks and 35 per cent of deaths in 2023. Civilians were the next most common target, representing 28 per cent of all IS victims in 2023.


The Gaza-based organisation was the second deadliest terror group in 2023 and was responsible for nine terrorist attacks that resulted in 1,209 deaths. Almost all of these deaths came as a result of the events of October 7th, in which Hamas-led militants carried out multiple incursions into Israel, carrying out rockets attacks, armed assaults, and kidnappings that resulted in 1,200 deaths, over 4,500 injuries, and 250 people being taken hostage.  

This was one of only four recorded terrorist attacks since 1970 that resulted in more than a thousand fatalities, and was the most fatalities in a single attack since 9/11.  

Hamas is an Islamist militant group and political organisation primarily active in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Founded in 1987 during the First Intifada, it seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in the historical region of Palestine.  

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by several countries, including the United States, Israel, and the European Union. Hamas gained political prominence after winning the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.  

The group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been responsible for numerous attacks, including suicide bombings and rocket launches, primarily targeting Israeli civilians and military personnel.  

Following its election victory, tensions with the rival Fatah party escalated, leading to violent clashes and Hamas’s eventual seizure of control in the Gaza Strip in 2007. This event resulted in a political split, with the Palestinian Authority governing the West Bank and Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip. 

Tactics favoured by Hamas  

The scope of the October 7th attacks required a high level of preparation, sophistication, and secrecy in the preceding months. During the operations, Hamas militants focused on disrupting communications to prevent the IDF from quickly responding to the attacks. Additionally, Hamas leveraged modern technology, such as body-worn cameras, and strategically timed its attacks to coincide with significant dates.

Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM)

JNIM was the third deadliest terrorist group in 2023, with 1,099 deaths and 112 attacks being attributed to the group. However, it is likely that the actual number of deaths for which the group was responsible is much higher, given the number of unclaimed attacks in the region in which it operates.  

In 2023, for the first time the group was responsible for more than a thousand deaths from terrorism in a single year.  

JNIM was formed in 2017 in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa as a coalition of Salafi-jihadist insurgent groups, including Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, AlMourabitoun and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Since its emergence, JNIM has expanded across the Central Sahel, committing acts of violence against civilians, local security forces and counter-terrorism operations, comprised of international militaries and UN peacekeepers. 

JNIM claims its aims are to incite Muslims to oppose oppression, expel occupying powers from the Sahel region and implement Islamic governance. JNIM’s leaders have declared its enemies to be France and other countries assisting France. 

The group has successfully exploited local grievances with governments, and economic and social conditions, particularly in northern and central Mali to bolster recruitment. Counterterrorism efforts against JNIM have included the now defunct France’s Operation Barkhane, formed in 2014 with the aim of expelling insurgent groups from five countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. With Western troops now largely withdrawn from the region, JNIM has continued its violent campaign across the Sahel. 

JNIM continues to expand territory under its control in Burkina Faso and Mali. While IS-Sahel is present in Burkina Faso, JNIM is the dominant terror group. The government of Burkina Faso is estimated to only control about 60 per cent of its territory as of 2022, with further losses in the year since. it is highly likely JNIM control a large amount of the territory not held by government forces. 

Tactics favoured by JNIM  

As JNIM largely operates within existing conflict zones, most of its attacks are targeted against the military. Attacks against the military accounted for just under half of all JNIM terrorist incidents, and over 52 per cent of deaths in 2023. However, the largest increase in targeted deaths occurred amongst the civilian population, with the number of civilian casualties from JNIM attacks rising from 111 in 2022, to 416 in 2023.  

Armed attacks continue to be the deadliest form of attack by JNIM, accounting for 82 per cent of all deaths by the group. Deaths from armed attacks have increased over threefold since 2022, from 233 deaths to 902 deaths in 2023.


The Salafist militant group active in East Africa was the fourth deadliest terrorist group in 2023, with 227 attacks and 499 deaths being attributed to it in 2023.  

This is the ninth consecutive year that the group has been responsible for more than 400 deaths from terrorism and more than 100 attacks in a given year.  

Al-Shabaab first emerged in a battle over Somalia’s capital in the summer of 2006. As an Al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia and Kenya, al-Shabaab pursues Islamist statehood aspirations in Somalia. Al-Shabaab was estimated to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters in 2019.  

It gained global recognition following several deadly attacks concentrated around the capital city of Mogadishu, as well as attacks in the neighbouring states of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in the 2000s. African Union peacekeeping forces known as the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) have been fighting al-Shabaab since 2007 with the help of US and United Nations (UN) support.  

In August 2022, the Somali government announced a renewed offensive against Al-Shabaab. The operation has made significant progress in recapturing territory held by Al-Shabaab for a decade or more. 

Despite initial advancements, the Somali government faced notable setbacks in the latter part of 2023. These challenges led to Somalia’s request to the United Nations for a three-month postponement of the planned withdrawal of 3,000 African Union peacekeepers. The request was prompted by an attack that compelled security forces to withdraw from recently captured towns. 

Tactics favoured by Al-Shabaab

The highest proportion of al-Shabaab attacks in 2023 were directed at the military at 41 per cent, followed by civilians at 22 per cent. Al-Shabaab has consistently utilised bombings and armed assaults as its main modes of attack. Nearly 69 per cent of terrorism deaths attributed to Al-Shabaab in 2023 were the result of bombings, while armed assaults accounted for a further 25 per cent of deaths.

Global Terrorism Index 2024

Produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is a comprehensive study that assesses the impact of terrorism on 163 countries, covering 99.7% of the world’s population. The report aims to analyze global trends in terrorism, offering valuable insights for informed policy responses to counter-terrorism efforts worldwide.


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